- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

Here’s a look at some software for owners of the PlayStation Portable:

Jeanne D’Arc from Sony Computer Entertainment, rated T for teen, $29.99. The life of a 15th-century French heroine is reimagined in a 4-inch-wide screen in this cartoony tactical role-playing game not to be missed.

Within the events surrounding the Hundred Years’ War, an assortment of dragons, orcs, evil goats and fantasy creatures are thrown in for good measure as a player controls Joan of Arc and about a dozen other heroes to free France from a demon army allied with the English.

The action includes all of the minutia one would expect from a role-playing title, such as the ability to purchase items and upgrades, use an inventory management system, and customize characters with more than 150 skills and abilities and plenty of magic.

Through a turn-based system, characters move a set number of spaces each round over 40 detailed terrains ranging from dungeons to rolling fields as they get into position and attack foes during each mission.

Normally, this type of fighting can get tedious, especially as the skirmishes have multiple heroes and villains on-screen at once with each taking a turn, but the developers at Level 5 make all of the action easily accessible and instinctive while adding multiple layers of beautiful design to keep the player riveted.

Not only does the game offer abundant traditional Japanese-style animated cut scenes influenced by anime, Don Bluth and Disney, but text segments also are highlighted with gorgeous illustrated versions of the characters. Adding eye-popping icing to the action are the cel-shaded, doll-like representations of the warriors actually engaged in battle, all within three-dimensional environments, and viewed with a controllable as well as intuitive camera.

Features to Jeanne D’Arc include the opportunity to position characters to stand near one another to give each other a strategic edge or replenish each other’s health. The game also gives the player the chance to build and acquire Skill Stones to enhance powers, as well as use arenas or coliseums to freely fight and hone skills without penalty to the main story.

From the moment a colorfully costumed Duke of Bedford unleashed a demon in the court of King Henry VI, I was hooked, and this extensive, inexpensive experience will capture any player’s imagination.

Dungeons and Dragons Tactics from Atari, rated T for teen, $39.99. Unfortunately, everything Jeanne D’Arc offers the PSP owner will be forgotten after playing this muddled tactical homage to the mother of all role-playing experiences. The same type of turn-based, gridded arena strategy is presented, using D&D;’s 3.5 rule set, but it is painfully plodding and statistically bogged down rather than delivering a flowing fantasy story.

More than 40 missions are executed through a dozen customizable warrior classes that fight an assortment of creatures as they level up familiar powers such as strength, dexterity and intelligence, and set out to conquer the magical lands.

However, deceptive camera angles that hide enemies, perplexing inventory management, and the use of mysterious die rolls to determine the effectiveness of a character’s attack or defense killed any excitement in battles.

Overall, the ridiculous number of modifiers and resource management options may thrill the role-playing game fanatic, but it will bewilder new players looking for a way to escape reality.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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